Category Archives: Fire Updates

Cal Fire Makes Progress on a Slew of Wildfires Raging Across Northern California | Corona, CA

BY VINCENT MOLESKI

SEPTEMBER 08, 2019 11:29 AM, UPDATED SEPTEMBER 08, 2019 12:26 PM

Cal Fire crews are working to fight fires across Northern California, with at least three major wildfires burning in Tehama, Butte and Lake counties. One of the largest wildfires in the region is the Red Bank Fire, burning west of Red Bluff in Tehama County. The Red Bank Fire was started by lightning on Thursday after weather officials warned of hazardous conditions and dry thunderstorms in the area.

The fire is currently 8,838 acres and 20% contained, according to Cal Fire. Cooler weather brought some relief to firefighters, Cal Fire said, but the situation is still dangerous.

“Although the humidities will be higher, the vegetation remains extremely dry and volatile,” Cal Fire said in a Red Bank status update. “Terrain and access will continue to challenge firefighting efforts.”

Evacuations remain in place between the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the intersection of Four Corners and the Petty John, Hammer Loop and Weemasoul Road areas south of Vestal Road.

The Swedes Fire in Butte County east of Oroville doubled in size, reaching 400 acres, but Cal Fire crews have managed to contain 20% of the wildfire. The Swedes Fire started Saturday, growing in minutes to 50 acres and reaching 200 acres later in the day. The cause is still under investigation, Cal Fire said.

“Fire activity was minimal overnight as winds were light and relative humidity was high, and crews made good progress,” Cal Fire said in an update. “The focus for today is improving containment lines in areas of steep, rugged terrain.”

Evacuation orders remain on Mount Ida Road, Quality Lane, Deer Valley Road from Swedes Flat Road to Jernigan Way, Lost Horizon Drive to the Oro-Quincy Highway and Old Olive Highway to the Oro-Quincy Highway.

The Swedes Fire has destroyed two structures.

The Oak Fire, which Cal Fire said started near Kelseyville in Lake County Friday, was fully contained as of Sunday morning at 53 acres.

“Cal Fire and cooperating agencies made significant progress overnight by completing containment lines around the fire,” Cal Fire said in its final incident report for the Oak Fire. “Fire personnel will be extinguishing these areas today and will be checking the fire area over the next several days.”

All roads in the area are now open, but evacuations are still advised, according to Cal Fire. The Oak Fire destroyed one structure.

For more information about fire updates, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

Why California Is Having Its Mildest Fire Season in 20 Years | Corona, CA

By Paul Rogers

Firefighters and rural residents have been on edge about wildfires all year, after the Camp Fire, the deadliest in the United States in 100 years, obliterated the town of Paradise in Butte County last November, killing 86 people, and the Wine Country fires the year before destroyed more than 6,000 homes in a similar trail of death and destruction across Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties.

Yet in a run of much-needed good fortune, California has been spared this year — at least so far.

a screenshot of a cell phone

© Provided by MediaNews Group d/b/a Digital First Media

There are still at least two months left in fire season, and hot weather is forecast over the next two weeks, so things could change. But as of this week, fewer acres have burned in California this year than in any year since 1998, according to an analysis of 25 years of federal and state fire records by this news organization.

“It’s been great. We don’t want to see fire. We don’t want to see anybody hurt,” said Scott McLean, deputy chief of Cal Fire, the state’s primary firefighting agency. “Our troops need the break. They need the rest.”

From Jan. 1 through Aug. 21, a total of 65,360 acres burned statewide on all types of land, including private property, national forests, national parks and other lands. That’s a staggering 94 percent less than what had burned last year over the same period in California: 1,096,033 acres, an area more than three times the size of Los Angeles.

More noteworthy: This year’s total is 83 percent lower than the previous 10-year average through Aug. 21, which is 387,295 acres.

On Friday, as crews put the finishing touches on extinguishing the 600-acre Mountain fire north of Redding, no major fires were burning anywhere in California. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service has rated most of the state as at “moderate” risk for wildfires this week, issuing a map largely colored green while major parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona were orange and red.

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There are two main reasons for the lack of catastrophic fires this year, experts say.

First, this past winter was very wet across the state. Fed by soaking atmospheric river storms that barreled in off the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Nevada snow pack grew to 161 percent of its historical average by April 1. Lake Tahoe filled to the top, and ski resorts stayed open until July.

Fires don’t burn in snow. At lower elevations, umbrellas were out a lot, too. Rains filled reservoirs and replenished rivers and groundwater basins that were still suffering from the state’s five-year drought, which ended in 2017. That drenched millions of acres, reducing fire risk.

Added to that, temperatures across much of California have been slightly cooler than normal so far this summer, even though other parts of the world have seen record heat waves as the climate continues to warm. Record wildfires are raging in Alaska, Siberia and the Amazon rainforest, for example, and last week federal scientists reported that July was the hottest month globally ever recorded back to 1880 when modern temperature records began

“We have epic fires elsewhere,”  said Craig Clements, professor of meteorology at San Jose State University and director of the school’s fire lab. “But because our weather locally was cooler and wetter, our fire danger was lower. But in the long term, the trends are showing we are going to have more drought and warmer temperatures. That’s going to affect wildfire.”

A key factor in wildfire risk in California is the moisture content of plants — basically, how much water they have soaked up. The more water they have, the more difficult it is for them to burn.

The moisture content of manzanita and chemise, two plants scientists regularly measure to gauge fire risk across California, is about 20 percent higher now in the Bay Area than average, Clements said.

So even though wet winters cause more grass to grow, he said, when larger vegetation like shrubs and trees soak up more moisture during wet winter and spring conditions, fires that start in the grasses don’t spread as rapidly to shrubs and trees as they do in dry years. That allows fire crews to make progress before the flames explode out of control and burn hundreds of homes.

“There have been a lot of ignitions, but the fires are being put out,” Clements said. “They aren’t spreading as fast this year.”

That’s what happened Thursday when an ominous fire began 15 miles north of Redding, near Shasta Lake. That blaze, called the Mountain Fire, immediately re-kindled memories of the Carr Fire last August, which started when a flat tire on a vehicle caused its metal rim to spark against the road. That fire burned for a month, charring 229,000 acres around Redding, killing three firefighters and five residents, destroying 1,600 buildings and causing $1.6 billion in damage.

As soon as the Mountain Fire started, Cal Fire, the Forest Service and local fire agencies leaped into action, sending more than 500 firefighters to the blaze in meadows, rural subdivisions and oak woodlands.

© Provided by MediaNews Group d/b/a Digital First Media Smoke rises from the Mountain Fire near Redding on Thursday. (Photo: Cal Fire)

Roughly 4,000 residents in the area near Shasta Lake were evacuated. But by Friday morning, the fire’s progress had halted at 600 acres, and crews said they expected it to be out by late Saturday. Three homes burned, but no one died.

“The concern was that we are looking at triple-digit heat with winds forecast for this week coming up,” said McLean. “We wanted to get ahead of the game. There are no flames there now, just a few hot spots.”

An analysis by this news organization of fire and weather records over the past 25 years shows that four of the five worst fire years back to 1994 all occurred after drier-than-normal winters and, similarly, four of the five mildest fire years, including this year, all occurred after wetter-than-normal winters.

There are exceptions. In late 2016 and early 2017, there was a very wet winter. But dry conditions followed in October, and by November, heavy winds knocked down power lines across the state, sparking fires across Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties.

With forecasters calling for hot weather over the next two weeks, fire crews are on alert, McLean said, adding that he hopes for rain in October to dramatically cut fire danger.

“We can’t be complacent,” he said. “We still have a long way to go. September and October are historically our worst months for fires. It only takes one spark.”

Mercury News researcher Leigh Poitinger contributed to this report.

For more information about fire season updates, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

More Than 30 Injured in Texas Refinery Plant Explosion | Corona, CA

More Than 30 Injured in Texas Refinery Plant Explosion

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Southern California

The city of Baytown says that Irving-based Exxon Mobil has requested some nearby residents shelter in place as a precaution.

More than 30 people were injured in an explosion and subsequent fire at refinery plant fire near Houston, officials said.

The fire, which is burning polypropylene materials, started Wednesday morning at the Exxon Mobil Baytown Olefins plant, located about 25 miles east of Houston.

The city of Baytown says the fire is in an area that contains polypropylene material and that Irving-based Exxon Mobil has requested some nearby residents shelter in place as a precaution. Baytown city officials said three people suffered injuries and drove themselves to a hospital, according to Houston NBC affiliate KPRC.

Exxon Mobil issued the following written statement about the fire:

“A fire has occurred at the Baytown Olefins Plant. Our fire teams are working to extinguish the fire. We are conducting personnel accounting. Our first priority remains the safety of people, including our employees, contractors and the surrounding community. As a precaution, our Industrial Hygiene staff is conducting air quality monitoring at the site and fence line. We are cooperating with regulatory agencies. We deeply regret any disruption or inconvenience that this incident may have caused the community.”

The area has seen large fires this year involving other petrochemical companies, too.

In April, one worker died after a tank holding a flammable chemical caught fire in Crosby. And in March, a fire burned for days at a petrochemical storage facility in nearby Deer Park.

For more information about fire updates, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

Vegetation Fire Burns More than 11 Acres in Paso Robles Riverbed

By Gabby Ferreira

June 30, 2019 12:20 PM, UPDATED JUNE 30, 2019 03:17 PM

A fire in Paso Robles burned about 11.5 acres of land on Saturday, according to the Paso Robles Department of Emergency Services. The fire was reported in the area of North River Road at about 5 p.m., the agency said.

The wind-driven fire was burning in dense vegetation in the Salinas riverbed, and was difficult for firefighters to access, Emergency Services said. The area of North River Road between Union Road and River Oaks Drive was closed for about five hours as emergency crews worked to fight the fire.

A total of 62 firefighters from Paso Robles, Cal Fire, Camp Roberts, Templeton and Atascadero responded to the blaze, Emergency Services said.

Officials initially said the fire had burned about 6 acres, but that number was updated to 11.51 acres on Sunday morning, following more accurate mapping of the area, according to Emergency Services.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

This is the second fire to erupt in the Salinas riverbed this month: On June 10, a brush fire in the riverbed in the 100 block of Niblick Road forced authorities to close the Niblick Bridge until they could contain the fire.

For more information about fire safety, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

Fighting Fire with Fire: Ventura County Crews Use Controlled Burns to Prevent Wildfires | Corona, CA

Jeremy Childs, Ventura County Star Published 1:54 p.m. PT May 30, 2019 | Updated 10:05 a.m. PT May 31, 2019

A new study backs up what Ventura County firefighters already knew: A controlled blaze at a time and place of their choosing can prevent a disaster later. With that in mind, local firefighters became fire starters when they conducted their first controlled burn of the year to get rid of built-up vegetation that can fuel a brush blaze into a monster wildfire.

Controlled burns like Wednesday’s – which cleared at least seven acres of tall grass on a ranch in Hidden Valley – can also revitalize soil and give trainees the skills to battle wildfires. Yet despite their effectiveness, a study concluded not enough controlled burns are taking place in the western U.S. to keep wildfires from raging out of control.

The study by University of Idaho researcher Crystal A. Kolden laid the blame mostly on federal agencies that control large amounts of land in the West.

But Kolden conceded that the agencies’ resources are also consumed by firefighting instead of prevention and that they’re dealing with a public that’s more fearful of controlled burns in the western U.S. than elsewhere. Public concerns include excessive smoke and flames getting out of control.

Even if federal agencies seem reluctant to conduct controlled burns, state and local agencies aren’t, the study found.

“Whenever we have to opportunity to do them, we do them,” said Capt. Brian McGrath, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department.

He said his agency is committed to using controlled burns to prevent wildfires, a sentiment echoed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire.

Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean said the state has stepped up its prevention efforts after a series of major wildfire seasons that included Ventura County’s Thomas, Woolsey and Hill fires. “The idea behind it is to provide for the safety and protection of property and bring our forests and lands back to resiliency,” McLean said, noting that the recent drought has increased the amount of dry vegetation that fuels wildfires.

‘We have a lot of work ahead of us’

Tasked by Gov. Gavin Newsom with identifying the top 35 areas where fuel-reduction efforts are needed, Cal Fire has come up with about 90,000 acres of land to target. As of early May, Cal Fire had burned 10,518 acres this year, according to McLean, a number that’s grown in the past 30 days.

The state has increased funding for the efforts, letting Cal Fire dedicate six hand crews to thinning wildfire fuel, and has sent 110 National Guard troops to help for six months.

Cal Fire has also performed about 100,000 inspections of defensible spaces this year, and aims to complete 250,000 through December. Despite the doubled-down efforts, McLean cautioned against thinking the problem is taken care of with extra money and resources. “We have a lot of work ahead of us for quite some time,” he said.

The burden in California may be on Cal Fire and local agencies.

Kolden’s study, published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Fire, showed that in places where controlled burns have increased in the past two decades, they’ve mostly been conducted by state or local agencies. In the same period, controlled burns by federal agencies shrank from more than 90% of burns to less than 30%.

Kolden found that from 1998 to 2018, controlled burns grew in acreage by 5% per year throughout the U.S., although there was a 2.3% decrease in Southern California. Kolden found 70% of all controlled burns and 98% of the increase was in the southeastern U.S., which Kolden said could be why that region has seen fewer recent wildfire disasters than the western U.S.

‘There’s a lot to take into account’

While the Ventura County Fire Department may be sold on the idea, conducting controlled burns is easier said than done, according to McGrath. Choosing the location alone can be complicated. “You have to take into consideration the impact on wildlife, water runoff, the type of fuel,” McGrath said. “There’s a lot to take into account.”

The jurisdiction of the land can also play a huge role, as state or federal land is more highly regulated than county or privately-owned land.

“It’s a lot easier to do on private property,” McGrath said. “We’re under the same protocol as an agriculture company burning their crops.”

Even with a location picked out, unexpected factors such as high temperatures or gusty winds can delay controlled burns. McGrath said his agency works closely with the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District to determine the best days to perform burns.

But Mother Nature sometimes beats firefighters to the punch.

“We had a half dozen scheduled, and the Thomas Fire took them all out,” McGrath said.

Jeremy Childs is a breaking news and public safety reporter covering the night shift for the Ventura County Star. He can be reached by calling 805-437-0208 or emailing jeremy.childs@vcstar.com.

For more information about wildfire safety, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

Fire investigators Inspect Properties as Wildfire Season Nears | Corona, CA

By Dale Yurong Updated 2 hours ago

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Cal Fire crews and California National Guard troops continue work on a fuel reduction project in the Prather area. It’s designed to create fuel breaks and help keep foothill and mountain residents safe. But homeowners like Wayne Wilhelm are also doing their part. The 71-year-old knows how dangerous wildfires can be.

“I did not want my house to be one of those that get burnt like Paradise and things like that,” he said. “I feel like my house in a fire would probably survive the situation.”

Cal Fire inspectors have been out educating people on the need to clear 100 feet of defensible space around their home. Weeds, grass, even rubbish can pose a potential fire threat and allow flames to spread quickly.

“A lot of times with wildfires there’s high winds and there’s embers blown around by the fire,” said Seth Brown. “We want people to make their home hardened so an ember doesn’t get into a tight space or into a hole, an eave, into the attic.”

Tulare County Fire crews begin their inspections May 1, but Cal Fire inspectors have been visiting homeowners for a few months now.

Wilhelm’s fire season preparation is seen as ideal though he knows many people in the foothills have some catching up to do.

“I have a neighbor next door to me who has a lot of brush, a lot of stuff on his property,” he said. “I’ve commented to him he needs to clean it up even though he physically can’t do it himself, he can hire people to do it.”

Firefighters recommend you do outdoor property maintenance before 10 a.m. before it warms up and not do the work when it’s windy.

As we’ve seen in past years, rocks hitting metal blades can cause sparks which lead to a fire.

For more information about fire season preparations, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

PG&E Says Company’s Equipment May Have Ignited Camp Fire | Corona, CA

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said Thursday the company believes it is “probable that its equipment will be determined to be an ignition point of the 2018 Camp Fire.”

The Camp Fire ignited on Nov. 8 in remote Butte County and moved through the region. The wildfire claimed 85 lives and destroyed more than 14,000 homes within weeks.

PG&E released information Thursday as part of its 2018 fourth quarter earnings report.

The embattled utility company said it’s taking a $10.5 billion charge for claims connected to the Camp Fire in its fourth quarter earnings.

In a December letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E officials said an employee “observed fire in the vicinity” of one of the company’s towers and workers called 911 the morning of Nov. 8 — the day the wildfire ignited.

Inspectors later found a broken C-hook and a “flash mark” at that same tower, suggesting a power line broke free and made contact with the tower.

Separately, a PG&E employee on Nov. 9 found a “pole and other equipment was on the ground with bullets and bullet holes” at a different location near Flea Mountain.

On Nov. 12, an employee found downed wires and damaged and downed poles at Concow and Rim roads, the letter says.

The official cause of the blaze has not been determined. Several fire victims have filed lawsuits that blame PG&E’s equipment in sparking the wildfire.

No other details have been released.

Stay with KCRA for updates.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

For more information about fire prevention, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

The Paradise Fire Sets off Alarm Bells for Peninsula and Carmel Valley Residents | Corona, CA

By Pam Marino – Monterey Country Now

Shortly after the massive destruction and death toll of the Camp Fire in Paradise became known to the world in early November, the phones started ringing in Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams’ office. Nerves were rattled among people living on the Monterey Peninsula and in Carmel Valley, and they wanted to know what was being done to prevent a similar disaster in their neighborhoods.

For some, the 1987 Morse Fire in Pebble Beach – which consumed about 160 acres and 31 structures, doing $18 million in damage – still resonates. An investigation later blamed lots of dry fuel in the forest during a drought year, winds coming off the ocean and from the east and wood-shingled rooftops covered in pine needles.

That day in May 1987, the weather conditions were just right, says Monterey Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer. The Peninsula’s fog and mild weather generally help minimize the risk of wildfires as deadly as the Camp Fire or 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, Panholzer adds, “but once in awhile we have dry hot days. Those are the days we all sweat bullets as firefighters.”

Weather is one factor in the spread of wildfires. Another is the accumulation of dry brush, dead wood and nonnative plants, which the area has plenty of, Panholzer says. It’s what has residents worried, as one Carmel resident who lives along Pescadero Canyon told the Carmel City Council in January. With homes lining one side of the forested canyon across from Pebble Beach, he said, “We have the most to lose.”

“We need to manage the forest as a healthy forest,” Panholzer says. That means thinning, and sometimes leaving dead tree trunks behind to foster a healthy ecosystem among birds and bugs. He believes Peninsula cities in wooded areas like Carmel and Pacific Grove – which contract with Monterey FD for fire services – and Monterey are doing a good job of clearing their forested areas.

Carmel is looking at renting goats in the coming year to eat up dry grass and overgrown shrubs, as has been done in Pebble Beach, says City Administrator Chip Rerig. They cost between $1,500 and $2,000 an acre, for a minimum of five acres. Goats can reach steep areas humans can’t, plus they eat poison oak.

Fostering relationships among local emergency agencies has “stepped up,” Panholzer says, including with Cal Fire, Monterey Regional Fire Protection District and others. Representatives from a number of agencies met Jan. 24 to brainstorm evacuation plans. Adams hosts a meeting for the public to ask questions of fire officials from 6-8pm on Jan. 31 at Palo Corona Regional Park.

Ultimately, however, Panholzer says residents who live in wooded areas have to be prepared for the possibility, and have plans in place for evacuating with pets, photos and important documents.

 

How to Help California Fire Victims | Corona, CA

By Julia Jacobs | Nov. 11, 2018

Three wildfires in California have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed thousands of homes. So far, dozens of people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more are missing.

Vast expanses of land have been scorched in Northern California by the Camp Fire — the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history — and in Southern California by the Woolsey and Hill Fires.

Here’s how you can help.

Remember to do your research on a charity’s reputation for using donations effectively. Charity Navigator is a good source to consult. Also, remember that sending money is almost always the most efficient way to help in a disaster, according to the Center for International Disaster Information, part of the United States Agency for International Development. If volunteers on the ground end up with a mountain of donated goods, they’ll have to spend time sorting through them rather than buying exactly what’s needed.

For nonprofits that are seeking donations, click here.

There are also multiple crowdfunding efforts for victims of the California fires. GoFundMe has organized a page that catalogs the relief efforts in Northern and Southern California. It includes links to donate to families who have lost their homes.

Google is collecting donations to help those affected by the wildfires in Southern California. It will funnel the donations to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which will distribute the money to local nonprofits.

Additionally, Airbnb has launched a program that asks people to open their homes to those affected by the fires. Until Nov. 29, the company is allowing residents to mark their homes as a place for evacuees and aid workers to stay for free.

For more information about how to help, call CJ Suppression at 888-821-2334 or visit the website at www.cjsuppression.com.

CJ Suppression proudly serves Corona, CA and all surrounding areas.

Dozens of Massachusetts Homes Exploded. A Gas Expert Weighs In. | Corona, CA

by RACHEL GUTMAN

SEP 14, 2018

WCVB / AP

Investigators still don’t know what happened, but there’s one likely explanation.

Late Thursday, dozens of explosions erupted in three towns in northern Massachusetts. As many as 70 fires, explosions, and suspected gas leaks were reported to state police, with at least 39 homes affected in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. One person was killed when a chimney collapsed on his car, and at least 25 more people were reportedly treated for injuries.

In a statement, Columbia Gas said a total of 8,600 customers will be without service until safety teams can ensure that their homes and businesses are leak-free.

A widespread series of explosions like the one in Massachusetts is “really rare,” says Robert Jackson, a professor of energy and environmental science at Stanford University. Jackson’s studies focus on the environmental impacts of natural gas, and he has mapped thousands of gas leaks in cities around the country, including Boston. He told me that such an event is “unprecedented in recent years,” since explosions are usually isolated to a single building.

Jackson is not involved in investigating the Massachusetts explosions, but he was able to offer some insight into what could have caused such a strange, dramatic incident. The most likely explanation, he says, is the one most reports have speculated: Pipelines in the towns became suddenly over-pressurized. In the same way that high-voltage power lines traverse hundreds of miles before breaking off into lower-voltage tributaries in neighborhoods, natural-gas delivery systems consist of both long-distance, high-pressure pipelines and local ones that are only nominally pressurized and deliver gas into homes. Neighborhood pipelines are usually designed to withstand two to three times their normal operating pressure, but any increase makes gas more likely to escape.

“I can’t imagine another explanation for this event than a flush of pressurized gas,” Jackson says.

If local lines indeed were suddenly inundated with high-pressure gas, Jackson says, that could result in an explosion in one of two ways. First, the pipes themselves could explode. Second—and more likely, according to Jackson—excess pressure could have caused gas to leak out of pipes and valves and into homes, where it could be ignited by a pilot light and send whole buildings up in flames.

In most cases, according to Jackson, such rapid pressurization would be caused by a failure at a valve that separates high- and low-pressure pipelines. As for what would lead to such a failure, Jackson says, it could be that “somebody made a mistake. To flip the wrong valve, leave a junction open. Human error is the most common source of natural-gas explosions.”

Columbia Gas’s website announced an improvement campaign just a few hours before the explosions began, though no evidence has yet linked the explosions to pipeline updates or botched repairs. (A spokesperson for Columbia Gas did not respond to a request for comment.)

A flush of gas could also occur if older valves leak or break. In 2015, Jackson and his colleagues found that cities like Cincinnati that replaced their aging pipelines had 90 percent fewer gas leaks a mile than older cities like Boston that relied on older, cast-iron pipes. Across the country, Jackson says, many local pipelines are more than a century old—including in Boston, the closest major city his team studied to Thursday’s explosions.

Even though natural-gas leaks are fairly common, serious consequences aren’t. From 1998 to 2017, 15 people a year, on average, died in incidents related to gas distribution in the U.S. “Significant incidents”—those that do things such as cause an injury or death, result in at least $50,000 of damage, or lead to a fire or explosion—happen about 286 times a year.

That might sound like a lot. But then again, the streets of Boston carry an average of four gas leaks a mile.